Delegation is often considered the bottleneck for one’s own and organisational growth. In fact, Richard Branson identifies delegation as one of the key skills any entrepreneur must master. And yet, effective delegation is arguably one of the most difficult tasks for emerging leaders. As the leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith notes “Inappropriate delegation can kill. Kill morale, careers, and even a company.” One must, however, understand that effective delegation is not just limited to the corporate milieu but has relevance in the personal sphere as well. Think about how much you could relegate your housework while working from home. Whether you are a first-time manager or a seasoned one, you can learn a lot from these simple, time-tested practices of delegation. So, here we go.
Don’t personalise your work too much
When you are getting the work done, what should you expect: (A) the work must be done, or B) work must be done as per your standards? While most of you would want A, many would secretly desire B. But who defines your standards? You. And often you put so much personality in your work that you make it inscrutable and that’s where it remains stuck with you. You neither move up the value chain nor allow others to.
Remember, the objective is to get the work done and ‘your’ standards are mostly arbitrary. You must standardise the work, thereby making it predictable, reliable, and scalable. Look at how software development crossed borders, languages, and organisations against the backdrop of standardisation. By keeping the definition of your work simple you not only can delegate it but also automate it, thereby freeing up a lot more time for everybody concerned. Next comes the question of ‘whom’.
Learn to practice the ‘70% and go’ rule
How ready were you before you took up a certain job for the very first time? May be 60% or 70%, but never 100%. So why do you expect the other person to be 100% ready even before you offer her a chance? You should standardise the work and then identify somebody who is just about 70% ready to do the job and delegate. The rest of 30% will mostly happen on the job.
A good measure of your leadership capability is the number of your team members 70% ready to take up your role. The greater that number the better is for your succession planning and that of your next in line. Remember, when you give away a part of your job to that 70% ready employee, you free up pretty much 100% of your time associated with that task. But the question remains – why would the person give importance to a job that you don’t think is personally important?
Show them the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, but never the ‘how’
You delegate those activities which no longer add significant value to you. Here’s a heuristic: Any decision that doesn’t require thinking is a good candidate for letting go. The trick is to get somebody else to do what has outlived its utility for you. For that, you start by showing the big picture. You must be clear about the narrative, “if you do this, then …” An organisational purpose is a good starting point. And if it’s too uber for somebody, look at a personal purpose, even if it’s temporary. Such as, “if you do this, you get to take my role, or create more visibility, or learn new skills”. Then comes the desired outcome, the ‘what’ of the job. It requires discipline to not slip into micromanaging. So, tell the ‘what’, the outcome, and not the ‘how’, the approach, and you may be up for some creative surprises. But how do you manage nasty ones?
Take your hands off your people, but never your eyes off them
Effective leaders don’t micromanage others, they micromanage themselves. Remember that you can delegate the authority but not the responsibility. The responsibility still lies with you. You need to learn to take your hands off your people, or else they won’t get a sense of ownership and take the adequate risk.
However, you must keep an eye on your people, for you won’t want them to perceive their work as being unimportant or that nobody cares. Keeping an eye on means that you care about the outcome but don’t bother about the approach. That what they do matters to you and to the firm, which goes back to the big picture and the aspects of personal purpose. A hands-off and eyes-on approach is difficult to balance but very important for you to both free up your time and develop the next layer of leaders. But then what do you do with your freed-up time?
Move to the high-leverage activities
One of the key reasons managers often shy away from delegation is that they don’t know what to do with their time when somebody else would take up their job. There is a sense of vacuum to an extent of an existential threat. Both the driver and outcome of the delegation are to do something better with your now-available time and attention. A delegation-worthy activity is one which is low on leverage and you must prepare your movement up the value chain, both professionally and personally. This would need more System-2 (slow and deliberate) thinking than the commonplace System-1 (fast and automatic) thinking. But it’s worth all the effort.
In summary, you might not be relinquishing your work enough whereby choking your growth and that of the people around you. Be pragmatic about work and more personal about your learning, and delegate with confidence.